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Report on progress of the Programmatic Review 2012-13

October 2013

STFC runs a well-managed programme of activities including grant-funded research, large facilities and international subscriptions. STFC has long considered it good practice to review regularly the priorities of its funded programme; this helps it sustain the viability of its research portfolio and thereby maintain the UK at the forefront of the science that it supports.

STFC also runs a technology programme, directed at future science and facilities, and a portfolio of programmes designed to exploit the technology, skills and expertise of its funded researchers in UK Universities and within its own laboratories. I believe it is to STFC’s credit that it has included these programmes in the scope of the programmatic review for the first time.

The outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review in 2010 was that STFC and other Research Councils received flat-cash budget allocations for each of the four years 2011-15. The current programme was designed to fit within this constrained financial envelope, but three years of flat cash funding have inevitably taken a toll on the breadth of the programme. This restriction makes it even more important that STFC continue to review priorities so that it may construct the best possible programme for the UK.

This latest Programmatic Review was commenced by Science Board in mid-2012 with the aim of assessing the quality of STFC’s activities in terms of scientific quality, operational effectiveness, and impact in the broadest sense. This would inform STFC’s future strategic and financial planning, recommend appropriate future research areas, help define an improved research portfolio, and assist in implementation planning.

The objectives of the Programmatic Review were to:

  • define research areas that are consistent with STFC’s strategic objectives;

  • evaluate whether each of STFC's current programmes is well-matched to the Council’s strategy;

  • evaluate the recent, current, and likely future scientific excellence, operational effectiveness, and impact of the scientific aspects of each of STFC's programmes;

  • identify any aspects of STFC's programmes that are less well-matched to the Council's strategy and to make recommendations concerning the future of these activities;

  • consider future programme opportunities and, if appropriate, to make recommendations on how these could be taken forward;

  • evaluate the balance of STFC's programmes and to recommend a future research portfolio.

The Programmatic Review was set up in order to inform planning decisions and to help STFC optimise excellent science and the broader economic and societal impact of its programme.

It was hoped at the outset that Science Board’s recommendations would be published and considered without delay, and that STFC would already have announced a refreshed programme this Autumn. However the Government’s decision to conduct a one-year Spending Review during 2013 to determine STFC’s funding for 2015-16, instead of undertaking a four-year Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) during 2014, has meant that this timetable could not proceed as planned.

In anticipation of the forthcoming CSR in 2014, Science Board’s recommendations were designed to be used in any financial scenario (positive, negative or neutral). This approach has already proved valuable, as it has allowed STFC to define clearly the implications and consequences of various scenarios in its ongoing negotiations with Government.

At its meeting in July 2013, Council received Science Board’s Programmatic Review Report and welcomed it as an extremely sound basis for planning STFC’s future science programme once the budgetary situation is known, and as an excellent source of guidance for STFC’s input to the Spending Review. As the Spending Review negotiations are still ongoing and must of necessity remain confidential, Council and STFC Executive decided, with the agreement of the Chair of Science Board, that the full version of the Programmatic Review Report should not be released until the final budget outcome for 2015-16 is known.

During the intervening period, STFC will be required to make a series of “business as usual” decisions. These decisions will either fall outside the scope of the Programmatic Review, or will be consistent with the Review’s recommendations.

Science Board is aware and pleased that the Programmatic Review has been warmly welcomed by Council, has already proved useful in the Spending Review negotiations, and is currently being used to secure the best possible settlement for 2015/16.Once the budget is known, STFC will take serious account of the Review’s recommendations in constructing its future programme. The Chair and Deputy Chair of Science Board, who attend STFC Council meetings, will participate in discussions on the Spending Review negotiations and the future programme.

Science and Technology Facilities Council Switchboard: 01793 442000